Just like every other type of cancer, mouth cancer (oral cancer) is curable if it’s detected and treated early. At the earliest stage of mouth cancer, relatively minor surgeries and medications can be used to remove the cancerous cells and make sure that the cancer will never return. The success of the treatment and the survival of a patient greatly depends on the time of his or her diagnosis. Earlier diagnosis and treatments increases the the chances of survival after treatment.
During the treatment of oral cancer, the stage and the extent the cancer has spread really matters. For all stages of oral cancer, the survival rate after one year is 81 percent. While the survival rate after five years and ten years are 56 and 41 percent respectively. So, it’s always important to report to your dentist or doctor immediately if you notice any abnormal changes in your mouth, lips and throat.
However, for you to understand better on how mouth cancer can be cured, you need to know about the early symptoms, types, diagnosis and treatment options.
What are the early signs of mouth cancer?
Oral cancers are part of a group of cancers which are referred to as head and neck cancers. The cancer can develop:
- In the pharynx (throat): this includes hard and soft palate , the back of your tongue, the back of your throat, tonsils and sinuses.
- In the mouth: this includes the roof of the mouth, floor of the mouth, lips, gums, the lining of the cheeks, and on the surface of the tongue.
Oral cancers usually come with sores, swelling and lumps on the lips, mouth, throat and around the jaw. Most patients also experience loose teeth, unusual bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth and persistent bad breath. Well, all this can cause severe pain and even interfere with eating, swallowing, breathing and even talking. In addition, people with mouth cancer usually have leukoplakia. Leukoplakia is a form of white or red patches that develops on the surface of the inner lining of the mouth and cheek. These patches usually bleeds easily in most cases and doesn’t come off if rubbed.
Although, leukoplakia is often seen in people that use tobacco and alcohol. But in most cases, leukoplakia can be precancerous, meaning that they may develop into various types of cancer.
What are the types of Mouth cancer?
Not all tumors found in the mouth are cancerous. Some of the tumors which are not cancers are known as benign. Benign are several types of non-cancerous tumors and tumor-like conditions that may develop in the oral cavity and oropharynx. Some of the benign tumors which includes Granular cell tumor, Karatoacanthoma, Leiomyoma, Osteochondroma, Lipoma, Schwannoma, Neurofibroma and Papilloma are often removed via surgery. Also, some cases are called “precancerous,” which means they may develop into cancer.
Of all the types of cancers that occur in the oral cavity, more than 90 percent of these cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Squamous cell carcinoma develops when some squamous cells mutate and become abnormal. These cancers usually occur in the lining of the oral cavity. They can spread deeper into other nearby parts of the mouth as more days passes.
Another type of oral cancers is known as Minor salivary gland carcinomas. This includes several types of oral cancer that develops on the minor salivary glands, which are located throughout the lining of the mouth and throat. These include adenoid cystic carcinoma, mucoepidermoid carcinoma and polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma. (1)
How is oral cancer diagnosed?
If a patient is experiencing symptoms of oral cancer, a dentist or doctor can perform certain oral examination to determine whether the patient is suffering from oral cancer. Some of these tests includes:
- Physical examination: the doctor will have to look at and feel the patient’s lips, entire mouth and throat in search of any abnormalities such as lumps, sores, bleeding, swelling and leukoplakia.
- Biopsy: if the doctor finds any suspicious growth such as tumor or lesions, he will take some tissues from there for biopsy. Biopsy is usually performed in the laboratory, to test for the presence of cancer cells within the tissue sample taken from the tumor or lesions.
- Imaging tests: this includes X-rays, CT scans, PET scan and MRI scans. These tests are to see whether there is presence of cancer in the lymph nodes or other organs in the body. The tests checks to know if there is cancerous tumour in your mouth, throat, neck, lungs, jaw or elsewhere in your body.
- Endoscopy: this procedure is done with the use of flexible torch and camera. The camera is passed into the nasal passages, sinuses, inner throat, windpipe, and trachea to check for cancerous tumors.
Is mouth cancer curable?
Mouth cancer is curable, although the earlier, the better. The earlier the stage at diagnosis, the higher the chance of survival after treatment. Sometimes, surgery is often the first treatment option for mouth cancer if it was detected at an early stage. Since oral cancer can spread beyond the mouth, to the throat and other organs of the body, the advanced stage can be very difficult to treat.
However, your treatment for mouth cancer will depend on a number of things. The tumor size, the type of the cancer, the extent it has spread, location of the tumor and your general health condition will determine the right course of treatment for you. Here are some of the available treatments options for mouth cancer:
- Surgery: depending on the size and the location of the cancer, a surgeon might need to make some incisions in the neck or jawbone to remove the cancerous cells. Surgery involves the removal of the entire tumors, only healthy tissue are left behind. The surgeon may need to reconstruct some part of your mouth, if you are not able to talk or eat after the surgery.
- Radiation therapy: oral cancers are sensitive to radiotherapy. Radiation therapy involves the use of high energy x-ray beam or particles to destroy cancer cells. This treatment is highly accurate since the equipments and rays are specially designed to spare healthy tissue and eliminate only cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: chemotherapy involves the use of powerful medications to destroy the cancer cells by damaging its DNA at varying stages of their growth cycles. To increase effectiveness, chemotherapy is often combined with radiation therapy.
- Targeted drug therapy: this treatment option also involves the use of powerful medicines for fighting cancer. Targeted drug therapy works by interfering with cancer cell growth on a molecular level. It is often combined with radiation therapy and chemotherapy to increase it’s effectiveness.
- Immunotherapy: this are special drugs that are designed to help our immune system to identify and kill cancer cells within the body. This treatment option is sometimes recommended after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Finally, it’s important to know that all these available treatments for mouth cancer have some serious side effects. In my previous post, I listed some of the dangerous side effects of each of the treatment options that I listed above. You can read the post here – Treatments for mouth cancer +their side effects.